Forgive Freely


Sermon Notes and Audio

Scripture Focus- Matthew 6:12-15

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For nearly two centuries, Ludwig Van Beethoven’s death at the age of 56, in 1827, was a mystery. The famous classical musician suffered from irritability, depression and abdominal pain. His dying wish was that his illness would be discovered so that the world would be reconciled to him after his death. In 1994, two Americans launched a study to determine the cause of his death. Chemical analysis of a strand of his hair showed his killer- it was lead poisoning. An additional study about a decade later confirmed it.

More than likely, it was a little poison in everyday activities that took his life. It could have come from drinking out of lead lined cups or having dinner on a lead lined plate- both common household items of the day. Or maybe he ate contaminated fish or had contaminated wine. It did not come all at once, the lead instead killed him slowly and quietly- one little bit at a time.

This is how unforgiveness is in relationships, marriages, and families. It stores itself in a person’s heart, and slowly poisons the carrier. It is a weapon meant for another that eventually overcomes the one who holds it and hides it. In all relationships, people are prone to offending one another. Some of the time they are major issues, but much of the time they are small things- but they build up over time and cause real damage.

We are in a series of messages this month on “The Faithful Family.” The theme verse is Joshua 24:15 If it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

This message focuses on what it means to forgive freely from Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount.

 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen. For if you forgive people their wrongdoing, your heavenly Father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, your Father will not forgive your wrongdoing.

We need to understand what forgiveness is, to be able to forgive freely.

 Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

The Lord’s prayer indicates we should daily ask God for forgiveness for trespassing against Him. The request that God not punish us for our sin. We know our sin. Sin makes us guilty and brings judgment. Sin is missing the mark and falling short of the glory of God. None of us has done everything we ought to have done, and no matter how many things you have gotten right, you have fallen short of God’s holy standard.

The word ‘debt’ is used in the NT to indicate moral obligations, what we ought to do, in doing right. Jesus speaks of sin here specifically as debts in the Sermon on the Mount.  Our sins are many, so our debt is great. God made us to live in His glory, and walk according to His holiness. When we do anything that is contrary to the glory of God, we incur a debt with Divine Justice. The word ‘forgive’ means to wipe the slate clean, to pardon, to cancel a debt.

Forgiveness is a gift. Forgiveness that comes from God, cancels a debt that is owed. To forgive means to bear the burden of the offense. Jesus died for us and paid the debt we could not pay, taking upon Himself the penalty and the pain of our wrongdoing. The only just penalty for our sins is death. Jesus died on the cross, taking the punishment that we deserve.

Forgiveness is not a compromise of morality. God’s justice ensures that all sin is dealt with. God will never compromise this. Either the sin is covered by the blood of Jesus, or by the penalty exacted on the person who has offended God.

Forgiveness is a release. In Jesus, God cancels our debt and sets us free. In our language, this is probably the clearest word for understanding what forgiveness is. Forgiveness releases the person from the obligation.

Psalm 103:12 As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

Forgiveness is central to our salvation. God is loving and merciful- ready to forgive our sins.

When we forgive, we cancel another person’s debt to us. We bear the burden. So if I forgive you, I bear the burden of the debt. Forgiveness takes place when the person who was offended and justly angered by the offender bears his own anger, and lets the other go free. Anger cannot be ignored, denied, or forgotten without doing treachery in hidden ways. It must be dealt with responsibly, honestly, in a decisive act of the will. Either the injured and justifiably angry person vents his feelings on the other in retaliation—(That is an attempt at achieving justice as accuser, judge, and hangman all in one.)—or the injured person may choose to accept his angry feelings, bear the burden of them personally, find release through confession and prayer and set the other person free. This is forgiveness. David Augsburger, Cherishable: Love and Marriage, 141-144.

The challenge with the words of Jesus is that they seem to imply that God does not forgive unconditionally, but that He forgives according to the degree to which we forgive others. The point is this- a Christian’s forgiveness is based on realizing that he or she has been forgiven and the response to the forgiveness that is received.

We need to understand how forgiveness works, to be able to forgive freely.

 V14-15 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

The context of forgiveness here is our relationship and fellowship with God, that directly impacts our relationships and fellowship with others. Our forgiveness is not something we work for or merit. That is not what Jesus is saying.

Forgiveness comes from a responsibility. Forgiveness is required for those who have been forgiven, it is imperative. We are not given the luxury of holding on to unforgiveness and bitterness towards other people. The point is that believers who have been forgiven so great a debt against God, are new creations in Christ, with a new heart and the Holy Spirit.

John Stott- Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense toward God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves we have minimized our own.

Forgiveness reveals that we have been forgiven, and requires a willingness to extend it to others. There is no forgiveness for the one who does not forgive. An unforgiving spirit bears strong witness to the fact a person has never truly been forgiven. The underlying solution to it all is forgiveness that comes from God, that is then willingly extended to others.

To not be willing to forgive, is a rebellious, open act of disobedience against God the ultimate Forgiver.  Forgiveness draws deep on mercy. Many people choose to harbor unforgiveness, but forgiveness is commanded and possible in Christ. We are to be willing to truly forgive and then release the debt that is owed.

Ephesians 4:32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Someone said, an unforgiving spirit is the devil’s playground, and can become the Christian’s battleground.

A well-known story of forgiveness comes from the life of Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie. They were arrested in WWII for hiding Jews from the Nazis and they were sent to a German concentration camp. Betsy died a slow and terrible death as a result of it. In 1947, Corrie spoke about God’s forgiveness to a church in Munich. Afterward, a man sought her out. She recognized him as one of the guards who had mistreated her and her sister. He told her that he had become a Christian and with an extended hand, he asked her for her forgiveness. Corrie struggled with her feelings, but when she recalled the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:15, she knew she had to forgive. She silently prayed, Jesus, help me! And thrust her hand into the hand of her former tormentor.

We forgive, freely, generously, wholeheartedly, spontaneously, and eagerly!

We need to understand there are difficulties in forgiveness, to be able to forgive freely.

Maybe you need to forgive someone- a parent, a friend, a neighbor, maybe even a grown child of yours. Forgiveness means release, but there may be some difficulties.

Forgiveness is difficult because it forces us to come to grips with our own failures. As the most basic level we know we have failed God and others many times. We have not done the good that we should have done and we have done the wrong we do not wish to do.

Forgiveness is difficult because we love people. Sin takes a toll on life. When you love someone deeply, and you see that person getting hurt, it is hard to forgive the wrongdoer.

Forgiveness is difficult because it demands such a terrible price. One of the most difficult things we have to do is to ask someone we love to forgive us. To commit a wrong against someone else, and then have to ask forgiveness is one of the most humbling things we can experience.

Forgiveness is difficult because it may not necessarily be received well. You may do your part, and be willing to forgive a wrong, and then it not turn out as well as you had hoped. What should you do? Forgive anyway. You cannot control another person’s response, all you can control is your actions.

Forgiveness is difficult because it may not result in reconciliation. Forgiveness is focused on reconciliation and restoring broken relationships. Reconciliation differs from forgiveness in that it is often conditioned on the attitude and action of the offender. You may not even be able to control whether or not you deal with someone directly as it relates to the issue of forgiveness. Again you cannot always control the situation and whether or not reconciliation is realistic, but you can control your actions. The level or sincerity of your forgiveness is not limited, regardless of another person’s response.

Forgiveness is difficult because it is hard to forget. It is not developing spiritual amnesia, instead it is by God’s grace finding the ability to willingly move on from the situation.

Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?”  He wanted to appear to be especially forgiving. The Jewish Rabbis at the time taught that forgiving someone more than three times was unnecessary. Jesus responded that forgiveness should be offered 70 x 7. It must have stunned the disciples. Jesus was not limiting forgiveness to 490 times, but communicating the depths of grace. We are not capable of this type of forgiving spirit on our own, it only comes from God. He forgives us over and over.

Regardless of the difficulties in forgiveness, and they are real, we are commanded to forgive as we have been forgiven.

There are significant benefits from forgiveness!

Forgiveness benefits us spiritually. The heaviness that an offense brings into our lives is lifted and replaced by peace. Resentment can be overcome. Bitterness steals the joy.

Forgiveness benefits us physically. Letting go of the hurt and anger lowers stress levels and blood pressure, and is generally good for you.

Forgiveness benefits us relationally. It may help with the person being forgiven but it will certainly help you as you relate to others. Bitter, unforgiving people are toxic.

William Arthur Ward- Forgiveness is the key that unlocks the door of resentment and the handcuffs of hate. It is a power that breaks the chains of bitterness and the shackles of selfishness.

God initiates forgiveness. God secured forgiveness. God completely forgives. God permanently forgives.

Sooner or later a failure to love or some unfair behavior will cause pain in a family relationship. When that happens, as a Christian, you have the God given ability to forgive freely. Forgive as you have been forgiven!